Karen Lugo

Lest any European states think that passing incitement-to-hate laws criminalizing remarks deemed offensive to Islamic sensibilities, a February 2011 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to hatred in Vienna offered “that European laws and jurisprudence can be described as a patchwork, often inconsistent and vague in their application.” The workshop was also concerned with “low recourse to judicial mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in cases that involve incitement to hatred.”

The three-day Washington session will “discuss best practices for two of the recommended actions” and Secretary Clinton warned in comments after the July Istanbul meeting that it may be time for “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.”

By now, Western nations should have learned that with reasonable and thoughtful wordsmiths come the rude and brash speakers. We also have the lessons of history to tell us that it is impossible to censor one without also ceding the power to limit the other. The act of vesting some civil authority with the power to draw the line between that speech which is deemed socially palatable and that which crosses the line into the "unacceptable" zone means arbitrary and eventually corrupt control of the very means of perpetuating American principles of self- determination and democratic rule.

Even worse, the idea of giving the activists who will exploit any opportunity to advance the oppressive tenets of sharia the authority to define the grievance standards will surely lead to cultural destruction.

Thus, if we are not to trust a fallible political agent with determining what is acceptable speech, we must err on the side of allowing robust - even rough-and-tumble - speech. Our Founding Fathers would approve. The Supreme Court recently did approve when it ruled 8 - 1 in Snyder v. Phelps to “to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court when he said that Americans “have chosen a different course” and that we must not “react to pain by punishing the speaker.”

Liberty-loving Americans occupy the entire field when it comes to hashing out a very broad range of issues. Even those on the fringe are covered since we realize that the line between "fringe" and "reasonable" is not for us to draw. The promised best measures that emanate from this working session will tell if Secretary Clinton and President Obama really grasp the unalienable nature of the American right to free speech.


Karen Lugo

Karen Lugo is the Founder of the Libertas-West Project and a co-director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence.